For people who are interested in organic farming in Katshina, Setoyama-san is the man you should turn to. He has gained experience in organic farming for the past 14 years, growing delicious and natural fruits and vegetables on the 7 fields of his farm called ‘iikarakan’. Setoyama-san does not use any pesticides, additives, fertilizers, compost, digging- or harvesting-machines. He believes nature works best at its own.
The only way Setoyama intervenes is with the fertilization or breeding of the plants. I would call him the Gregor Mendel of Katashina. For those of you who don’t know who Gregor Mendel is, he is also called ‘the founder of genetics’. Mendel, an Austrian friar in the 17th century, established several ground rules of heredity through his pea-crossing experiments. Similarly, Setoyama-san, crosses the seeds of his tomatoes, onions, beans and wheat in order to get the best plants and harvest in an organic manner. For example, unlike all the other tomatoes of Katashina that grow in greenhouses, Setoyama-san’s tomatoes grow outside on his fields. Yet, it took him 7 years to cultivate his tomato seeds in order to harvest sweet, juicy tomatoes that grow naturally in the fresh air.
An important principle for Setoyama-san is ‘practice makes perfect’. He experiments a lot within his organic farm; with his seeds, where to plant them and next to what. Setoyama-san explains that in nature you don’t have an area that consists of just one colour – a variety of plants grow better. As a result, his 7 fields consist of a colourful mix of different plants. He says that wheat grows very well next to soybeans – thus he plants one row of wheat, one row of soybeans, one row of wheat, one row… you get the picture. This alternating pattern is called ‘kansaku’.
Furthermore, Setoyama-san has learnt from experience that it is good to keep some grasses growing in between the row of plants. When I ask why, he smiles at me and says: ‘in order to give the bugs a place to stay’. If however, the Gregor Mendel of Katashina has an unanswered question, he turns to the elderly for advice.
On a sunny afternoon, Aya and I helped him with cutting wheat. Just by looking at his field you can tell that it is a different way of farming – it is more colourful and looks a bit ‘messier’ or ‘wilder’. We were a bit unsure of where to step – if we were walking on his grass or his freshly planted seedlings… Nevertheless, once we squatted down and started cutting the wheat using a sickle, it was actually quite fun.
DSC08979After we had cut all the wheat, we tied them together and brought the bundles to his greenhouse to hang them up to dry. Setoyama-san showed us his very old hand-powered machine that he uses to remove the grains of wheat from the dried bundles.
The Japanese demand for organic harvest is not as big as in Germany for example. However, the organic farming business is also slowly increasing in Japan. Katashina only has a very small amount of organic farms. Setoyama-san relies on the trust of his regular clients. He sells his harvests out of his car and in organic markets in Tokyo. He does all this work alone, but he tells us that he receives help from volunteers and friends once in a while. So if you are interested in giving organic farming in Japan a go – check out his blog. I am sure he will welcome you!
iikarakan Blog: http://iikarakan.81s.net/